Cycling And Dyspraxia – Connie’s Column

I am starting this blog post with a note to say I am in no way shape or form a medical expert, however since my dyspraxia diagnosis in 2017 I have undertaken a large amount of research in a bid to understand how my brain works and try to figure out ways to help myself . The point of this post is to be able to explain how it affects me in cycling and to just genuinely raise awareness of the condition. 

Dyspraxia. To a lot of people I sense that’s a word they have never heard or seen before. Dyspraxia is a form of developmental coordination disorder which is most known for effecting movement and coordination. However it affects much more than this, such as social and emotional behaviours, eye movements, memory, processing, learning and perception. Dyspraxia is traditionally more common in boys than in girls but research is starting to question whether this figure is only due to how it presents itself differently in girls. Dyspraxia appears slightly different in each person so people don’t have every sign of the condition.  

I was diagnosed dyspraxic just after my 17th birthday. I was tested for both this and dyslexia (which I also have) after going off the rails academically when the work picked up prior to my GCSEs. I had never found school work challenging until this point where I suddenly felt very exposed, it felt like we had all had a hurdle put in front of us and everyone else around me had cleared it. I was incredibly lucky that I had two teachers who raised the alarm that something wasn’t quite right. At this point it was very clear I was dyslexic but no one had raised the question about whether I could be dyspraxic so my diagnosis in 2017 came as quite a shock.

Now you’re probably all trying to work out how this links to cycling. In hindsight it really stood out and I think if there had been more awareness it could have been detected years ago, leading to better management of my problems. It took me years to learn to use rollers and even now I wouldn’t say I am particularly skilled on them. My cornering is strange, I am very good on a left hand turn but put me through a right hand bend and its never going to be as smooth.

I still can’t really ride no handed- I will never forget an RSR back as a youth when we were asked to take jackets off whilst riding and I got completely stuck and ended up on the grass. I was utterly mortified given that I was trying my absolute heart out but genuinely couldn’t balance whilst co-ordinate myself to get my jacket off. It is alarming that coaches can become qualified without any awareness or training on how to spot or deal with conditions such as dyspraxia. It alarms me that I am even having to write this in a bid to maybe just educate one person who may in turn help one child with suspected dyspraxia. 

A lot of people ask me how I have got relatively good at something that I should struggle with, the simple answer is a huge amount of will power and determination. I have a lot of people to thank who pushed my talents in a bid for me to not dwell on my weaknesses in sport. PE at school should have been something I hated due to my lack of ability in ball sports, yet I had teachers who really used my natural talent when it came to running, increasing my confidence which has been rock bottom on some occasions due to my difficulties.

In cycling, despite some horrific experiences in skills sessions, over the years I have had coaches around me who would highlight my talents instead 75% of the time. We need more people like this in the sport and we need more awareness. Governing bodies such as British cycling need to include neurodiversity awareness within their coaching courses. Even if I had had a diagnosis I feel like I shouldn’t need to be screaming it out just to be treated fairly. Given the amount of people who get diagnosed late and only get diagnosed as a result of seeking treatment for mental health problems society as a whole needs to change and become more educated. 

I want to end this piece with a note to say whether you’re diagnosed dyspraxic or suspect you could have dyspraxia it is far from a barrier to anything. I want to be seen as someone who has gone against the stigma; I am studying for a degree at a Russell group university whilst competing around Europe in a sport that people often say dyspraxics can not do. If you put your mind to anything with the right support you can go against the status quo.

A Lost Cyclist – Connie’s Column

Welcome back…
I wasn’t sure what to write about this week, I had planned to write a piece from the peak district about how amazing it is to ride your bike in different places. I had planned to tell you about how excited I was for lots of upcoming UCI races. Instead I am at home social distancing, scared, stressed, struggling without other people and feeling completely lost.

For anyone who’s been in a cave lately you might have some how missed the Covid-19 outbreak which has put the whole world on hold. No bike racing till May at the very earliest. My longest racing break was 6 weeks when I broke my back in summer 2018- even then, I had raced for 6 weeks prior in extreme pain, determined to finish the season. People keep telling me this is different and better; yes it is because we are all out of action so you don’t have to look at race results and think what if? However, when I was out I was still going to cross races weekly to watch my dad race and stay in the loop with everyone. Now its unknown when I will see friends again and this is tough.

The cycling community is the best. There you go I said it. During my teenage years I swam, rowed, had (and still have) horses and even ran a bit, yet one of the reasons I chose cycling to be my main sport was the people. Don’t get me wrong there are people in this community who I don’t agree with, there are still huge faults in the sport but the vast majority of the cycling community are gold dust.

Things are rough for the whole world right now and I really can not wait till this nightmare is over and this community can start to rebuild. My heart goes out to race organisers who had booked courses and paid for road closures who’ve now lost loads of money. I also feel for community ran/charity venues such as the brilliant Herne hill velodrome. Plus independent bike shops who may never recover from this pandemic.

As a rider this period will be tough. For me partly down to the way my brain works I need goals and in a weird way run off adrenaline so feel slightly drowned in all these emotions. I had so much planned, from several UCI races, Track races (yes you read that right I am kick starting what will probably be a unsuccessful track career as soon as I can!), TTs.

It’s the first time in my cycling career I have felt really lost. Everyone is scared for those who are vulnerable in society too, I know I don’t want anyone to end up in intensive care. I guess for now the goal for us all is to not get ill and to keep riding our bikes in order to help our mental health and morale as that’s all

Due to the lack of racing I am hopefully going to use this time to write about wider issues. I am really keen to write a piece about battling Dyspraxia and Dyslexia as the general understanding of these two issues is pretty slim. I have also had some requests to talk about my degree and balancing it with cycling as well as wider issues such as sexism in the sport. If anyone else has any more ideas please reach out to me on social media as I want to help bring some interesting aspects into peoples lives in this difficult time.
Till next time, Stay safe and well

It’s Race Season! – Connie’s Column

Welcome back. This week I am going to be telling you all about my first proper race week of 2020 and a little bit of back story. So sit back and enjoy…

First week in March means one thing, race season! However, this very nearly wasn’t the case for me. Although my cross season had gone really well there were gaps in my winter training from illness.

Despite not living on campus at university I kept having the classic student cold, preventing me from training. Reflecting on the situation, this was 100% the right call as the few times I did try to ride, it only made it worse.

Going to an academically focused university I was unable to make time for a warm training camp as I had lectures and tests to attend, leading me to be in a state of panic as I realised I had failed to prepare myself for the year as well as I had hoped, and as such, had to keep reminding myself that my degree comes before cycling as it holds greater long-term significance to me. Riding back into form after a few local crits, I had my eyes set on the start of my season in Belgium, however, an illness hampered me yet again.

A weekend in bed was the only option on the menu. Determined to be to race-ready, and although not quite 100%, I took the risk to go to Belgium after a positive turbo session on Monday morning.

Les Samyn Des Dames is the most similar women’s race to Paris Roubaix and I can confirm the cobbles did not disappoint! Riding the race, I was unlucky as I got caught behind a crash around the halfway point and never made it back to the group. Alongside this, I had a slight gear failure due to my hanger somehow coming loose so I was stuck with only 14-11 on the back which was rather interesting on the cobbled climbs. However, I knew the legs were there and this definitely boosted my morale.

Back to London and back to training before a double race weekend. First up was the first round of the MK bowl spring series. Traditionally I get round in the bunch here but never get in the top 10 and when I have almost made it, I have done some stupid cornering leading to a nice puncture… I expected the race to end in the standard MK sprint finish but it didn’t. Littering the race were plenty of attacks, I was left with the options of attacking, counter-attacking or chasing every attempted break but one… in all honesty, I wasn’t sure it was going to stick so I stayed poised to attack when the two riders were brought back. Half a lap later it became apparent the break wasn’t coming back so I jumped up the outside and went on my own. I was now in no man’s land, out of reach of the break, left riding alone.

A few laps later two more strong riders joined me and the gap started closing. The three of us worked like crazy but never quite made the catch despite getting the gap down to 10 seconds, leaving us sprinting for third. Leading the sprint left me in a weak position, seeing me finish fifth which wasn’t disappointing, as the 3 of us had worked so hard we didn’t mind what the final order was.

Sunday saw the Hainault hilly on my local Essex climbs, hills I know well due to the amount of pain they inflict onto me on a regular basis. Riding my brand new time-trial bike for the first time, I got a chance to appreciate quite how nice it is. Sitting on the rollers warming up, I was laughing at how dead my legs felt. However, I managed to perform and win the women’s and get 22nd overall as well as breaking the course record contrary to my prior expectations. Hopefully, I’ll be doing more TT’s this year as I do really enjoy them (weird I know!)

So that’s the first week of my race season complete, so the fun and games start now I guess. Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures this coming season.

Till next time

Meet Connie, our newest Columnist

So, hello there and welcome to week one of Connie’s column. If you didn’t know already, I am Connie Hayes, I was born and bred in the best city in the world, London and I am very proud of my London postcode!  I race bikes for this super cool u23 girls squad called AWOL and get to travel Europe doing what I love best and feel super grateful for this. I am also a full time student studying Human Geography at Queen Mary University of London which I absolutely love. 

Here is a little introduction to me as a person. As a rider a lot of people jump to brand me a tester when in reality I call myself an all-rounder- I love every aspect of racing my bikes whether that be smashing it out in a TT or climbing huge bergs to being covered in mud racing cyclocross. Road has the largest place in my heart but my relationships with Cross and Track are both starting to blossom which I think is nice as doing one displine would be a bit one dimensional. My best result last year is a tricky one to define on paper it was probably my 16th at the elite national crit champs. Yet, personally I think it was getting round the UCI races I managed to finish as just a few years prior I couldn’t get round a youth national yet alone a professional level race. As a person I am well known for being very quirky. I am quite introverted which I think really helps me with my mental drive when it comes to training, I like to think having the mental strength to hack out 3 hours on the turbo with no Zwift is a skill that everyone wants in life… My preferred place to ride in the UK has to be the peak district (sorry Essex) I love hills and the beauty of the landscape. Racing all over europe, I think my favourite race to date has to be GP Isbergue, I loved the rolling climbs and the atmosphere. Away from cycling I am often found studying for my degree, I have a strong interest in Geo-politics and Housing hence why I choose to do a geography degree. I opted to study alongside cycling as I wanted a degree to fall back on and I also wanted to keep cycling fun and not make it a ‘job’ at 18. Its been a tough winter balancing it all but I am so happy I am at university, especially as my uni give me lots of support (more on that in a future post). 

I wanted to write a column to give people an insight into what life is like trying to be the best rider I physically can be whilst trying to balance this with my academic studies at a top flight uni so when I got approached about writing for the chain gang there was no second thoughts.  I also have both Dyslexia and Dyspraxia and I want to raise awareness of this in a bid to show people that if you put your mind to it there are no barriers to anything in life and feel a column would be a great place to do this. In my posts I will talk about everything from races, training, things I do away from cycling and topics that I feel are important within the sport of cycling and further afield. I hope you stick around and read the future posts in this series and enjoying gaining an insight into my life on the road. 

See you next week